Today, my heart is heavy with the news of the shooting in Newtown, Conneticut, and though I am not at all close to the area and though I do not have friends or family directly affected by the tragedy, I am having a hard time knowing what to doas a mother, as a person, and together as a family.
I really want to ball up in bed, watching news reports and weeping like I did in the days following 9/11though as a mother of a 9, 7, and 5 year old, I know I cannot. Im in a totally different place than I was eleven years ago.
Today, I have to figure out what to say to my kidsif anything.
I have to figure out how to handle this as a motherso I take care of myself.
I have to figure out how to handle this as a spouse of an elementary school administratorso I dont lose my mind.
I have to figure out how to handle this as a person so I dont fall into a hole of worry and despair.
I have to figure out how to move my family forward togetherso we are not scared every day we leave the house.
Ive done a lot of reading and talking today, and though my answers are not perfect, they give me some peace in a time when peace is almost impossible to find.
Heres the skinny. . .
Strategies for Handling Sad, Tragic NewsAs a Family
: This is not fool-proof, and its not for every family. But for us, for a public school family with a Kindergartner, first, and third grader, and a husband who also works in a school building, this is what we are doing.
Turning off the news
. The news is, and has been, off in our houseand it usually is. But especially during this time, the news is off. Its hard, though, when the newspaper headlines are heart-wrenching. But I deliberately didnt allow Maddy to read the detailed accounts in the Post; I gave her what I thought she needed, and thats it.
Talking to the kidshonestly
. I sat down with Maddy and Owen and told them:
Theres been a shooting in a school in Connecticut. Many children were killed. We dont know many details yet, but as I learn them, Ill tell you. All I know is that I wanted you to hear it from me before school on Monday. Many kids may be talking about it, but if theyre not, please dont bring it up. Its scary news, and its hard to hearwhich is why their moms and dads will tell them when theyre ready.
All I know for sure is that you are safe in your school. You are safe here at home. And that tragedies like this are really, really unusualand that we hope they never happen. So we will pray for the families, the kids, the teachers, and everyone involved. We will say lots of prayers.
And when you have questions, ask Daddy or me. Well tell you what we know. Okay? I love you so much.
Listening to the kids
. Maddy has had a lot of questions: Why did he have a gun? Where do people get guns? Why did he have a gun at school? What are the families doing now? What happened to those kids that daylike that morning? Did they feel pain?
I answered what I couldand I listened. Any time she had questions. I listened.
Making age-appropriate decisions.
We told Maddy and Owen, but we didnt tell Cora. We didnt think, as a Kindergartner, that Cora needed to know. However, if she asks me about itif she hears it at schoolIll talk to her. Im not sure if we did the best thing, but from what I read, its cool to make age-appropriate calls.
Watching and hearing President Obama
. We did. I loved his press conference, and I found great comfort in listening to him. I thought that maybe, just maybe, Maddy and Owen would as welland they did.
President Obamas Press Conference on Sandy Hook Elementary Tragedy
Following our normal routines
. Activities this weekend church, park, Gospel Drama rehearsal, swim, and playingthat were on our normal calendar stayed on our normal calendar. Kids were hugged, kissed, loved a little extra moreyes!but they also did chores, helped, and had to listen.
Giving ourselves alone time
. My husband spent some time with one of his buddies this weekend, and I went to the gym and spent some time solo. I needed to. He needed to. And because we all process things differently, alone time sometimes helps just as much as being surrounded by people 24/7.
Giving ourselves a break
. Its okay to lose patience with our kidsno matter how much we love them. And even though I cant fathom the grief that the parents of fallen children will feel, we need to offer ourselves some grace. Its okay to cry over spilled milksometimes its the silly spilled milk that kicks those tears in and those tears feel pretty good at times like this.
. Big-time. Adding the families, teachers, parents, first responders, police, investigators, and all people involved to our prayers helps.
Its easy to freak out about big issuesgun control, mental illness, school security, you name itat times like this, and for sure this tragedy should be an impetus for lawmakers to make big changes.
However, its important to note that a whole lot of solace can be found in taking time to thank the women and men who make it their job to spend six hours each day with our children. The first line of defense in an event like this. The people whose split-second decisions and bravery under pressure make big differences in our babies livesevery day.
Teachers. Thank them. Tomorrowand if not tomorrow, then the next day or the day after that.
Teachers have a hard joban incredibly difficult joband often its a thankless one.
Because of the hard work that our teachers, administrators, building service workerseveryone in the buildingdoes every single day, one thing that Im encouraging my kids to do is to take time tomorrow to really
thank their teachers.
Many people are doing the same thing, and I encourage you to do the same: Thank a Teacher Day.
When I found out the news of 9/11, I was teaching A Midsummer Nights Dream
to a class of 9th graders. Though we are incredibly close to DC, we carried on as normal as we could that day and the days following. It wasnt easybut we did the best we could knowing full well that many of our students parents worked at or near the Pentagon.
During the times when the sniper hit our area, I walked into my high school each morning and smiled nervously at the police who shined their flashlights into the woods that lined my school. They were looking for the sniper, and I was plowing forward, focusing on keeping my freshmen and sophomores as calm as I could. We all knew nothingwe understood nothingbut we, as educators, tried to keep to our normal schedules despite the chaos around us.
Teachers. Thank them. Tomorrowand if not tomorrow, then the next day or the day after that: Thank a Teacher Day.
Huge thanks to the many reliable resources I leaned on for this post:
Common Sense Media: Explaining News to Our Kids
Montgomery County Public Schools: Violence and Grief Resources
American Academy of Pediatrics: Talking to Kids About Disasters
American Psychiatric Association: Talking to Kids About Disasters
Washington Post On Parenting
: How Parents Can Help Their Children Cope
Washington Post Local How can we protect our kids in a culture that accepts guns?
I am Adam Lanzas Mother
, by Liza Long (an incredible article about mental illness, from a mothers perspective)
Any other bits of advice or resources youve leaned on? Please do share themI know I need to learn more!
Hugs, hugs, and more hugs to you and your families, and huge prayers to the families affected by the tragedy in Sandy Hook, CT.
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